The Toys Get Bigger
by James Stewart @TwistingRoads
Scrolling through ebay one evening I came across a really random barn find. It was an unfinished – actually, more of a hardly started kit of a ½ scale Lotus 7. I have two boys who are also car mad and when I saw this it seemed like a great project to get stuck into and the perfect way to inspire them with something they would never forget.
I later discovered the plans and kits were originally sold in very few numbers by a company called Grasshopper. You get the nose cone/arches and windscreen. Everything else you need to make. The chassis is shaped out of plywood, wheels are from a wheelbarrow, bonnet is a bent sheet of aluminium and all the details are bits and pieces of other old classic motorbikes and cars. The motor has been taken from a golf cart but due to the complexity of powering a wheelbarrow wheel, this required quite a lot of innovations. The drivetrain has been made from various old bicycle parts I had lying around. A 53t chainring has been bolted to the back of the drive wheel and chained up to an 11t sprocket that’s welded to the motor spindle. Badges made from keyrings, gauges made from nurse pocket watches and bicycle floor pumps,
The car isn’t small at ½ scale it’s in the region of 1.8m long, so manoeuvring a car this size isn’t easy- especially for young kids! So, I made the decision to enable it to have a reverse gear. I was worried that my boys might damage the motor or risk losing control of the car by messing with the switch. So, I installed a gear stick which is connected to a switch which my dad made. He is a software engineer, so he wrote a computer program into the switch that stops the motor changing direction if the accelerator is pressed at the same time. This gearstick is my proudest feature on the car, it has a nice feel and even has an original Elan wooden knob perched on top.
The car goes well; once up-to speed it rolls along about 14mph and the battery will last about 30mins. The bigger problem is me keeping up with them. I used to go out on foot but soon took to the bike instead. Luckily where I live there are several quiet cycle paths and loops the kids can do around the local field without presenting any real danger to others and themselves. The brake pedal is connected to a push bar that presses against the rear tyres; they’re not the best but anything better presented itself as being serious work.
The build took about four months to complete with lots of evenings and weekends spent in my in-laws’ shed. I built it just in time for Christmas where my boys unwrapped it aged just six and three. The paint job I did myself and in my opinion makes the car really stand out. The public reactions are amazing; people want to take photos, talk to us about it and it never fails to get waves and smiles, especially when they flash their lights and pip their horn.
Jealous of my own kids, I came across another ebay auction. This time I bought a full size one for me. Again, a car which was in desperate need of restoration. Six months later I pulled them alongside one another. Father like sons.
As a young boy my parents randomly took me and my brother to a weekend at Silverstone. We went to watch the 1996 British Endurance GT championship. I was into my cars and knew an F40 from an XJ220, but it was the way the Lotus Esprit V8 GT1 exceeded itself that left an impression that will seemingly last forever. It was battling for the podium with the Harrods and Gulf McLaren F1s. Lotus had a stand there which had James Bond’s Esprit and Chris Boardman’s Olympic winning Lotus 108 and 110 Road bikes. I drooled over the bikes and I left that weekend being Lotus Cars’ biggest fan!
Accordingly, I’ve moved through various Lotus homologations in the past decade or so. The bikes of Boardman inspired me to take up cycling which enabled me to have a career as pro cyclist. My first Lotus was a 110 bike I bought aged 16. I won national UK titles on this bike and it was key to getting my racing career off the ground (I still own it today as wall art). After racing bikes, I then lifted my leg over the chassis of something a little more comfortable and easier to move down the road, a 2005 S2 111s. I wanted a pure driving car and something that would take on the lanes and European mountain passes I usually cycle; something to teach me how to be better behind the wheel and reward me as a driver. Which brings me to my current car a 2015 Exige V6 Club Racer.